Yes, the Wall came tumbling down...but not before it had snaked out of the Herons, down the stairs, by the office, back up the other stairs, down the elevator, along the concourse, into the gym and out the front door.
The Herons have been thinking for a week about how to build a scale model of the Great Wall of China. Small groups had hit upon some cool ideas and today we sat down to talk about the possibilities. I set up a rate table so we could compare the different possibilities people suggested. We had considered making a block's length equal to one kilometer...but that would take 6,350 blocks and we only had 1,000. We considered making each block 10 km. We'd have enough blocks...but the width of the wall would be way off scale-wise (the width of the wall's top would be 660 meters instead of 5 meters.) Finally, a few kids suggested that we set a block so that its narrow long side was up. This would be the top of our wall and it would be 5 meters across. That made the height of the wall 15 m (perfect!) and the length 75 meters. We would only have enough blocks to make 1/83rd of the model but the class decided this was the way to go. It also let us place a watch tower every 150 meters, which is accurate for many parts of the wall.
The Herons quickly broke up into teams and began making the wall. They were amazing. Quickly, students developed specialties - the careful stacking of watch tower blocks, avoiding obstacles, managing supplies. As they got done with one part, the would leapfrog ahead to start work on parts that would be joined up to by other teams.
Excitement began to mount as we passed the kitchen and headed toward the office. The second and third graders were intrigued by what was out their front door and small tours began to move through the project, the Herons eagerly jumped in as tour guides.
The work continued - but now some students were looping back to make the beginning parts more perfect with matching blocks and better spacing. More teachers started sending their kids for tours. Finally, we ran out of blocks (just as we headed out the green doors by the plaza). We had built 1/83rd of the model. This afternoon, we hypothesized where we thought the full model would end. A few kids thought the mini-mall, some thought it might make it to Northfield, or even to Target. The answer? Spoiler alert (we'll be doing this math next week for fun). Well, the blocks are 12 cm long and we used a thousand of them today so our model was .12 km long (or .075 miles). So, if that's 1/83rd of the total, the total would be 6.2 miles long. (The first draft of this blog was off by a power of 10! Sorry for those of you who were amazed by my figures -- they were indeed unbelievable.)
After we dismantled the wall and returned all of the blocks we borrowed, we sat in a circle to share the habits of mind we'd exhibited during the building. Here's our list: persisting, finding humor, going above and beyond, responding with wonder and awe, working interdependently, thinking flexibly, communicating clearly, and striving for accuracy. Not bad for a morning's work.
Yesterday's fieldtrip was also really wonderful. Many thanks to Amy Narveson, Kerry Hanifl, and Laura Geissler who chaperoned along with me. The students were so excited to see everything. It was like they were greeting old friends. "Look! Ivory!" "This is carved out of jade!" "SILK!!" "It's Buddha!" "An ink stone!" The terracotta warriors were astonishing. The students asked keen questions and had wonderful observations. It's well worth a return trip -- we could have stayed another hour easily.